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West End News Oct. 27

The Heart of the Continent Partnership has been meeting throughout the week
The Heart of the Continent Partnership has been meeting throughout the week

finalcut_WEN_20111027.mp39.87 MB

This is the time of year when the community turns its attention to the Birch Grove School and Community Center. First up is the popular and long-standing Birch Grove PTO Halloween Carnival. I can't remember when the carnival started, but it has long been an important community event in the West End. This year it falls on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. It includes games, bingo, costumes, a cakewalk, haunted house, treats and basically a wahoo good time for everyone. If you've attended in the past, you know what I mean. If you haven't attended before, I guarantee that it is big fun for kids of all ages. Of course, all the proceeds go to support the programs at Birch Grove.

Hard on the heels of the carnival comes the annual lutefisk dinner for Zoar Church, Nov. 12 in the Birch Grove gym. This will be the first year that the lutefisk will be prepared in the beautifully remodeled school and community kitchen. I assume the kitchen design took into account the rigors of lutefisk preparation, including adequate ventilation. When my kids were students at Birch Grove they claimed that they could smell the lutefisk for two weeks after the event. All kidding aside, this is a great West End community event, and ham is also on the menu for those few people who don't love lutefisk.

Next up is the Birch Grove Foundation's annual Papa Charlie's dinner and dance at Lutsen Mountains. Save the date for Friday, Nov. 18. Dinner and the silent auction run from 4 until 8 p.m. The fine local band, D'Merritt, will play for dancing from 8 until they stop. Most, if not all, of the labor and supplies for this event are donated, which makes it an exceptionally good fundraiser for all the great things that the Birch Grove Foundation does.

As I speak, I am in the far east end of Cook County attending the Heart of the Continent Partnership conference at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. The Heart of the Continent Partnership is an informal coalition of public land managers and local stakeholders from both sides of the international boundary in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. It includes public land managers, business owners, non-profit groups, elected officials, and virtually anyone with an interest in the truly beautiful ecosystem that includes Lake Superior, the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, Voyageurs National Park, the Chippewa Tribal lands, First Nation lands, many smaller state and provincial parks, and various units of government from local to national. The idea of Heart of the Continent is to create a regional identity around our shared ecosystem and cooperate in exploring how we can work together to improve the economic health and sustainability of the region.

The four-day conference is the first of its kind for this region. It is especially valuable in bringing Canadians and Americans together to see what we have in common. When you combine the long driving distances and the inconvenience of crossing the border, we almost never see each other, even though we live very near each other as the crow flies. The most immediate benefit of this effort is just getting to know one another and acknowledge that we are all in the same boat. And the people at the conference are also working to launch specific projects that will improve and protect the already great quality of life in the region. Among others things, this includes cooperative marketing to studying problems and solutions related to climate change.

It almost goes without saying that much of the discussion revolves about how we can best take advantage of the outstanding natural features of lakes, rivers, forest, trails and wilderness that are so abundant here. Within the Heart of the Continent region there are more than 5 million acres of public land. The trick is to use these resources in a way that provides a rich and dignified life for local residents and is welcoming and fulfilling for visitors, while protecting the region's natural character for our children, grandchildren and beyond. On the personal level, I've enjoyed revisiting Thunder Bay's Old Fort William Historical Park, where the first half of the conference was held, and the Grand Portage community, where the second half was held.

Although the leaves are now fully down, the tamaracks are at their golden peak. While November can be a cruel month here in the northland, it does have its own stark beauty. I have my fingers crossed for the lakes to freeze smoothly this year, because skating on "wild ice" is never far from my mind. I think it would be interesting to explore the Pagami Creek fire on skates, but failing that, on ski or snowshoes for sure.